Women honoured

UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng during her keynote address.

To conclude Women’s Month, the Robben Island Museum held their annual Imbokodo Memorial Lecture in honour of Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu as part of the museum’s centennial celebrations.

The lecture took place on Thursday August 30 at the Table Bay Hotel.

It also acknowledged the women of the struggle who had courage and strength during the Women’s March of August 9, 1956, including Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa, Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Cissie Gool, to name a few.

Robben Island Museum spokesperson, Morongoa Ramaboa, said it was an important celebration as they were honouring the women of the struggle because of their selflessness and their contribution to society while their husbands were incarcerated.
“Women were affected just as much as men. They were left to run households without husbands, fathers and sons.”

She said another reason Imbokodo is held is to allow for intergenerational dialogue, where we can learn from the past and understand how it matters today.

“There are many things we have inherited from apartheid which is the reason why today we are still unequal. We need to look at how we can build each other up as women and how we face the struggles of today. More can be done to reposition women in society.

“We need to remember the onus is on us to make good choices and to live a purposeful life. We need to remember that the lives we lead today is because of our struggle heroes and had they not had the women they had, they would not have had the strength they had.” In her keynote address, UCT vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, said the struggle was not over. “uMama Sisulu and her comrades led us and they brought us here to head the office. We need to start a conversation about what it means to have the office as a black woman in this country today. It is not what it seems on TV and in newspapers; it is way harder than that.”

She said everyone was there to reflect on the legacy of uMama Sisulu.

“She showed love to others – love is what made her a rock. She would want us to take her example to heart and change the future of women, but we still have a long way to go.”

She said when people talk about women, they see a certain picture, but that picture includes many women who are unheard, and who don’t have a voice. “They are marginalised for various reasons, and we may see them as different, but they are an important part of womanhood.”

She said this is the problem that university academics can address.

“As researchers and teachers we can make the space for more women’s voices to be heard for their own advancement and the advancement of others; to influence government policy and to help us learn how to make room for both transgender and cisgender women’s needs.”

Ms Phakeng said it was an honour to do the lecture, especially on Ms Sisulu’s 100th birthday celebration, and especially who she was and what she stood for. “Today I am the vice-chancellor of UCT because of her, and others who fought for me to have opportunities, so today is in honour of them.”

She said she wanted to challenge women because the focus of Women’s Month is always on professional women and their struggles.

“I want us to look beyond that. We need to expand our thinking to all women, even transgendered.”

Asked about how we can carry on the legacy of Ma Sisulu, she said: “We have to be selfless. Ma Sisulu’s generation was selfless and that allowed them to fight in the struggle without thinking how it will benefit only them.”

Lindiwe Thetiwe, Albertina Sisulu’s granddaughter, said it was an honour that her grandmother as well as other women who fought in the struggle were celebrated.

“It is an indication that we need to bring up the baton, that we should continue her work. We need to continue with the struggle for liberation and ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. We need to live up to her values.”

Asked what some of the values that her grandmother taught her were, she said: “She taught us discipline, and she taught us love. She was very thorough in whatever she did, and she stood up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”

A short film titled uMama, by Marion Keim was also shown at the lecture. The film focused on the role mothers of political activists played in shaping the icons they had become.